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Pigs in a Blanket: "Wild Hogs" and "Zodiac" PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 07 March 2007 02:35

Martin Lawrence, Tim Allen, John Travolta, and William H. Macy in Wild HogsWILD HOGS

I try. Honest to God, when sitting in a crowded auditorium, watching a charmless, lazy, ridiculously unfunny movie such as Wild Hogs, I try to get on the audience's wavelength and figure out what it is that's making them howl with laughter.

Occasionally, I succeed. When I saw last spring's repellent revenge-of-the-nerds flick The Benchwarmers, it was easy to attribute the merriment to the gender and age of the movie's chief demographic: What eight-year-old boy wouldn't love 90 minutes of booger jokes and baseballs to the crotch? When I attended Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, the packed audience roared at nearly every hateful thing our heroic hick said and did; that, too, made sense, as the attendees were obviously composed of die-hard Larry fans for whom he could do no wrong. (For Pete's sake, they applauded at the movie's end.)

But in the case of Wild Hogs - which concerns four longtime biker buddies who decide to reinvigorate their staid, middle-aged lifestyles through a cross-country road trip - I'm at a loss. Through the course of Walt Becker's comedy, the sizable Friday-afternoon audience (almost none of whom, it should be noted, were kids) whooped it up at the most pedestrian setups and lamest gags. Leaving the auditorium at the film's end, a forty-something woman, still chuckling, said to her movie-going companion, "That was hilarious." Exactly what is going on here?

To take but one example from the film: When the camera is fixed on William H. Macy's spaz as he tools down the street, and then he looks behind him to check out his friends' progress, doesn't the audience know that as soon as Macy faces front, a heavy object will thwack! him in the face and knock him off his bike? Or is the crowd, for some reason, in hysterics because of the predictability of the joke? (Macy has to perform this shtick more than once during the course of the movie, and John Travolta has a variant on it, too, when he turns to look at his pals, turns to the front, and finds himself face-to-face with a squawking, angry crow.)

For that matter, when the foursome takes an impromptu skinny dip in a roadside lake, isn't it obvious that their manly idyll will be interrupted by a vacationing family (complete with a sweet-faced little girl) who will be aghast upon realizing that the guys are naked? When, after a night's sleep, the men are seen curled up together under a blanket, commenting about how their asses hurt from "riding something that big" all day, isn't it inevitable that a cop will happen upon them and completely misinterpret the exchange? And that the cop will be a lascivious homosexual hoping to turn their quartet into a quintet? (Are you noticing a running theme here? Gay panic is a perfectly valid movie subject - Hilary Swank, after all, won an Oscar for a film on the issue - but must it continually be used in the service of stale gags?)

Over and over, the audience responded with delight to the most anemic setups and punchlines screenwriter Brad Copeland could conceivably muster. And granted, I probably see more movies than the average Joe, but hasn't everyone seen these comic staples - which include the guys running out of gas in the desert, igniting the wrath of a bad-ass group of bikers, and eventually becoming heroes to the local townsfolk - too many times already? With Wild Hogs completely devoid of clever dialogue and anything even resembling surprise, not only do I not understand the laughter, but I can't fathom how it holds a person's basic interest; as soon as Tim Allen starts moping about how he's losing the respect of his young son - again - or Macy struggles with a computer that refuses to turn off the Internet porn, my mind instinctively wanders, and I find myself composing a shopping list or wondering if I filled out my tax forms correctly.

In a work of this ilk, I'm occasionally perked up by the performers, but here, the only thing keeping me alert was witnessing how badly they were being used. Ray Liotta, as the head of the rival biker gang, probably comes off the worst - the actor's trademark open-mouthed cackle ("HEH-HEH-HEH-HEH-HEH!!!") sounds unusually hollow, and with reason - but poor Marisa Tomei, as the de rigueur love interest, places a close second. And while the typically phlegmatic Allen isn't exactly being used badly, he's being used, which is bad enough. (I'm aching to see him give a performance that doesn't make me think I'm watching a rerun of Home Improvement.)

Others fare better. Martin Lawrence is unexpectedly genial and (almost) relaxed, while Macy, bless his heart, is doing his best to give a performance; too bad the material still makes both of them look like saps. And Travolta, striving for a loose, goofy spontaneity, saves what there is to save of the picture - he's always doing something inventive, even if you're never quite sure what it is he's doing. Yet in a movie as unrepentantly crummy as this one, nobody emerges unscathed, and there was no performer I felt worse for than Peter Fonda, who shows up at the climax as a motorcycle-riding deus ex bike-ina. Fonda's casting is the movie's one moment of wit, and sadly, no one in the audience seemed to get the joke; it's almost unbearably depressing to think that, for many, Peter Fonda won't be thought of as the patron saint of Easy Rider, but of Wild Hogs.


Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in ZodiacZODIAC

In David Fincher's Zodiac, which explores the decades-long manhunt of southern California's most notorious serial killer, there's an inevitable scene in which Chloe Sevigny tells husband Jake Gyllenhaal that he's getting too wrapped up in the case, and another in which a wall calendar distractingly reads "1980," when a preceding title card has told us it's 1983. If I counted correctly, those are the only two weak - or even close to weak - scenes in the entire movie. For Zodiac is an absolutely superb dramatic thriller, a work so thick with tension and intrigue, and so splendidly performed and crafted, that, even at more than two-and-a-half hours, it never threatens to be dull. Fincher stages the killings with nerve-racking gusto - the composition is always slightly off-center, and the accompanying soundtrack unusually quiet - but the great surprise of the film is that the investigation itself, conducted by working-class cops and dedicated journalists, is laden with intelligent, obsessive thrills; most of the movie takes place in the early- to mid-1970s, and it's no overstatement to say that Zodiac could comfortably sit next to great, paranoid '70s classics such as All the President's Men and The Parallax View. With its marvelously terse, lucid screenplay by James Vanderbilt (based on Robert Graysmith's book), and fearsomely committed, humane performances by the likes of Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Edwards, Zodiac - like the recent The Good Shepherd - is a large-scale, hugely satisfying film, and an extraordinary upping of the ante from its director. Over the past 15 years, David Fincher has fashioned some spectacularly nasty entertainments. With Zodiac, he's finally created a work of art.

Comments (4)Add Comment
written by John Hammond, March 10, 2007
You don't get it. That is the point, re: Wild Hogs. You are out of touch with what the audience is looking for, and unable to judge a movie on the merits of what it achieves to be. Silly, thoughtless escapism. I saw it. I got it. I laughed. Brian Robbins is right: critics, as a whole, are unable to understand the desires and wants of the audience.
written by Devils Advocate, March 14, 2007
Not referencing the specific movie comments, but your last comment about critics. Though I work here with him, I don't know what Mike's take is on this and can't speak for him, but some critics consider themselves more than just audience advocates. They're actually critiquing the movie in the context of more than "should you see it or not see it." ... In what might be thought of as a literary context. Especially if you consider film an important art form, criticism is more than just a thumbs up/down. Of course that can be part of it, but not necessarily all of it, and if you find a critic whose opinion, logic, and rationale you have an affinity for, it helps in picking where to spend your hard-earned dough. (though, of course, no two people will always agree anyway, critic or not).
written by Justin, March 22, 2007
Here's the thing Mike (this might help you take solace). When I was a kid I used to love watching Saturday morning cartoons. My dad would come into the room and want me to come outside and work and for 30 seconds or so he would watch the screen and then become disinterested and walk off. I used to thing "this is amazing stuff! Why doesn't he want to watch?" and now I'm older and I look at those same cartoons and I understand why he wasn't interested in watching. The same thing can happen with movies.

So how do you start enjoying those movies that you already know what's going to happen in the second and third act after watching the preview? A motorcycle accident might be helpful, especially if you aren't wearing a helmet, so you could take advantage of Iowa's 'no-helmet-required' law. If that seems too risky for you, you might try mixing heavy hallucinogenic drugs...maybe a little crack with LSD...experiment a little, get creative. You never know what group of brain cells might be causing the problem of 'over thinking', so destroying as many as you can. If you follow some of these ideas, you could find yourself sitting in a theater at the next Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalo film laughing hysterically, or you could be sitting on the edge of your seat at the upcoming Rambo film wondering if he'll be able to defeat the entire al qaeda
army, of course you might develop a slight 'drooling' problem or some minor 'ticks' but you'll be happy and satisfied with meritocracy. You'll look forward to opening a six of Budweiser and sitting down for a good four hours of NASCAR and living the good life watching them race around time and time again in a perfect circle. Predictability will become your major source of enjoyment and you can start frequenting some watering holes where everyone knows your name and their always glad you came.

Anyway, just some ideas for you to consider so your reviews will be more like..."that movie rocked dude! I was like freaked out man!" Sometimes having an opinion is dangerous because you never know when someone won't agree with it.

I'm going to go get rocked now.
written by Michael, March 23, 2007
I think the point Mike is trying to make is that this movie has been done before. This is a great help to many people who might be thinking about going to see this at the theater. If I have a choice of spending 20 bucks to go see a movie that is much like one I have seen many times or to go see a movie that may have some real inventiveness, then I want to go see the inventive one. I will wait for rental on the other one. Yes, I also crave the inane comedy once in awhile and don't mind spending three bucks for my whole family to watch it, but that makes much more sense to me than the mint I'll spend at the theater. Mike provides the insight into movies that I am looking for so that I can make a more informed decision before I spend money on reruns. Also, I think if you really read what Mike says in his articles, there is almost always a saving grace. In this article he points out that Travolta and Fonda have some interesting things to do. Other bad movies have gotten more kudos for different things like directing or cinematography. This may not make me see it in the theater, but it will encourage me to rent it on one of those nights that I'm standing in the middle of 1000 movies and don't want to watch any of them. That's probably the same night that I want inane garbage to take my mind off of everything else. So I say thank you Mike, for saving me money on my garbage.

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